"Very few of us are what we seem."
It was the 26th of June 2011. Lauren Giddings was excited for her future. The twenty seven year old had just graduated from law school at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, United States. It had been a long seven years of study but she worked really hard. Working in criminal law was all she wanted to do. There was just one more obstacle in her way. The Georgia Bar Exam.
Like a lot of other students, Lauren stayed in Macon after graduation instead of moving home to Baltimore. She stayed in her apartment which was directly across from Mercer University so that she could spend the next few weeks studying. She told her family, her parents Bill and Karen and sisters Kaitlin and Sarah, that she would be studying non stop for the next while. So when they didn't hear from her for a few days, they weren't alarmed.
It was only when one of her friends, Ashley Morehouse, called Lauren's sister Kaitlin four days later when people really began to worry. On the 30th of June, Ashley went to Lauren's apartment with a few other friends. She had a key and entered Lauren's apartment. They hadn't seen her in four days. Everything looked normal. Nothing was out of place. Lauren's law books were on the table and her purse and keys were there too and her car was outside. The only thing missing was Lauren. They notified police.
When police arrived on foot of a missing person report, they looked through Lauren's apartment. Everything seemed in order. There were no signs of a forced entry and nothing appeared to have been stolen. They used luminal in the apartment to see if there were any traces of blood. There wasn't. But when they used it in Lauren's bathroom, the result was very different. There was blood everywhere. Police believed they were now looking for a body.
A search of the trash outside the apartment complex took place. Police made a horrifying discovery. They found a torso wrapped in plastic. Police spoke with all the residents. There were sixteen apartments in that block. One resident in particular stood out. Stephen McDaniel. Lauren and Stephen were neighbours since the first year of law school. When the torso was found, Stephen was speaking with a TV station and they notified him that a body had been found.
Police discovered that Stephen had access to all the apartments. He had a master key that opened each one. He admitted that he used the key on two apartments. He stole a condom from each apartment.
Police continued to search the complex and in the laundry room, they found a hacksaw along with a sheet with blood on it. There was also blood on the hacksaw and tests revealed it was Lauren's blood. In Stephen's apartment, police found the packaging for the hacksaw and a pair of Lauren's panties. He was charged with her murder and thirty counts of sexual exploitation as police discovered pornographic images of children on a computer flash drive.
A search of his apartment revealed he had been stalking Lauren for some time. He had a large number of images of her on a flash drive, video footage taken of inside her apartment and had searched for her Facebook and Linkedin pages repeatedly.
Lauren had been friendly with Stephen and he even met her parents. But she knew there was something a little strange happening in her apartment. She just didn't know Stephen was involved. A year before the murder, she told her sister that she felt things were moved around and somebody had been in the apartment but she couldn't say why she felt that way. It was just a feeling. She also received a call from a friend who spotted someone spying on her. The person saw someone with a large stick and a camera on top of the stick pointing towards Lauren's apartment. The last email she sent to anyone, was to her boyfriend Vincent Smith. She told him she believed somebody had tried to break into her apartment and that she was frightened and didn't want to stay there. Her intuition was correct. There was somebody watching her every move. And that was Stephen.
Stephen plead guilty to murder. As part of a plea deal, if he told the Court what he did to Lauren, the sexual exploitation of children and burglary charges against him would be dropped. He agreed to tell the Court what happened that night.
At 4.30 am, Stephen entered Lauren's apartment,using the key he had. He was dressed all in black and wore a mask and gloves. When Stephen entered the apartment, Lauren was asleep in bed. He spent a bit of time watching her sleeping. When he moved towards the bed, the floor creaked. Lauren woke up and told him to get out. He jumped on the bed and grabbed her throat. Lauren fought for her life and after she pulled the mask off his face, she pleaded for him to stop. She used his name. "Stephen. Please stop." They fell off the bed and her legs got caught under the bed so she couldn't kick him or defend herself much. Stephen did not let go of her throat and continued strangling her until she stopped moving. Stephen said it took fifteen minutes. He then dragged her body into the bathroom. He left her body in the bathroom and went back to his apartment.
Stephen spent the day in his apartment on the internet. Later that night he returned with a hacksaw. He decapitated Lauren and dismembered her body. He told his own lawyer that he sat down and cut off every finger and bone and appendage on her hands and threw them all in the toilet and flushed it at one time.Stephen put her body parts in multiple black trash bags.
He told the Court he put her limbs and body parts in different dumpsters but it was too late for police to locate them. They only found her torso. If police had arrived a few minutes later than they did, they would not have found the torso as the garbage collection was just about to take place.
The Court heard how Stephen had spied on Lauren for months, using a camera attached to a 6 foot long wooden stick. He stood beneath her second floor apartment and videoed her.
Stephen McDaniel was sentenced to life in prison for Lauren’s murder. The Prosecution did not seek the death penalty as Lauren did not believe in or agree with the death penalty. Lauren had a feeling for quite some time that somebody was watching her and moving her things in her apartment. But she was so busy in law school that she didn't have a lot of time to dwell on it. From the moment she met Stephen, she was always friendly and nice towards him. She included him and spoke to him always. He seemed harmless. She had no idea that when he closed his apartment door, he went online looking up images and violent websites , all the while fantasising about her. When their time as neighbours was about to come to an end, Stephen could not handle it. He murdered Lauren and dismembered her in a cold and calculated manner.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
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- Sandra Pupatello
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